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Why we grieve at the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second, even if we never met her in real life

If you watched the news or logged onto social media yesterday, you would have seen public displays of grief about the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second. Her death has prompted public outpourings of condolences from around the world. Some of the condolences come from people who have already met her, but the vast majority of people around the world had never met her in real life, only having a connection to her through the media. We may feel like we have “grown up with her”, after all she was 96. We may have listened to her annual broadcasts, where she shared her thoughts, values, and even sometimes personal anecdotes. We read about how she handled her family's scandals and marriages, divorces, and births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We felt like we developed a close connection as her family may have mirrored our own or others. We watched her publicly grieve after the recent death of her husband. We may have watched her Platinum Jubilee event in June of 2022.

With her advanced age, she planned for her death right down to the last detail. (As a death doula I’m impressed at her level of death positivity.)

First of all, let’s be clear about why we grieve about anyone. Grieving someone is about reflecting on our lifetime connection and the attachment we had with them that no longer exists. If grief had a purpose, I would like to think (as an optimist) that it was to help us learn and grow from the experience and emerge better equipped to deal with future losses.

Over the past year, there have been more and more reports and pictures of the queen’s failing health. We have unknowingly been preparing for her eventual loss too.

How is this grief for someone we know from these types of interactions different from grief we have for someone we did know intimately? The death of a well-known person, (a celebrity, public figures, our favourite author, or poet, just to name a few) might not have the same impact as losing our loved one, but it is commonplace to grieve for them and mourn their loss. Just because you might not have met the person in real life, it doesn’t mean that grieving their loss isn’t valid.

We may even go through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). These stages are not linear. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, in fact it is individual to the person.

The constant media coverage (especially for the 10 day period of mourning) can act as a constant reminder of their death so how can you cope? I suggest you cope the same way as for any death.

1. Feel the feelings that each of those 5 stages of grief will bring out.

2. Reach out to a loved one for a support. If the extensive coverage is bothering you, turn off the television and limit the amount of social media you view.

3. Attend a vigil or memorial. Attend vigils organized by community groups, watch the televised memorials, etc. Rituals are important whether they are public or private. Perhaps buy a memorial candle and light it for a total of 96 minutes- one minute for each of her years of life. (Please follow fire safety rules and do not leave it unattended.)

4. Journal about your feelings. Depending on where you live there may be opportunities for in-person signing of the official condolence books, or an on-line condolence book.

5. Seek support from professionals if your grief impacts on your daily life to the level that you can no longer cope or function.

In conclusion, the ten-day mourning period is going to be a whirlwind, our sense of stability will be shaken. There will be an established series of events. In the end, a new king will be crowned, and another chapter of the monarchy’s saga will begin.

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